The Interactive Age

Reflecting on six years of publishing Sunroom Desk, established October 28, 2008, and on Michael J. Arlen’s Book The Camera Age, published in 1981:

Among my goals in creating this site:
experiencing the shift to online publishing ();
reviewing books with local angles ().

In 2008, most people read blogs on full-size desktop screens. Six years later, most people are accessing content on mobile screens, phones and tablets.

In 2008, Amazon’s first Kindle had been on the market for less than a year. Six years later, e-readers are ubiquitous and “brick and mortar” bookstores are difficult to find.

In 2008, I started a tradition of publishing summer book reviews. In 2014, I posted the 33rd review, of 5 x 3, a retrospective of 20th century Armenian-American authors (among them Michael J. Arlen).

In July 2014, as I stepped into The Last Bookstore, I had no plan except “browsing.” I came across The Camera Age, a 1981 collection of Arlen’s New Yorker essays on television. This was the sort of “happy discovery” Terry Teachout was referring to in his recent WSJ essay “Closing Our Browsers”:

“Everybody knows that browsing is central to the experience of museum-going. It enables the serendipitous, horizon-widening discoveries that are part and parcel of an art lover’s education. Absent such discoveries, you’ll never know more than what you already knew going in.”

Arlen’s book is outdated, but reading closely I found it full of pertinent observations. One of my favorite essays was “Hosts and Guests,” analyzing the cultural antecedents of talk show hospitality. There is an unnerving analysis of the mainstream media’s role in minimizing the Three Mile Island debacle. And in “Talking Back,” the last piece in the book, Arlen critiqued the one-way nature of television –

“a massed citizenry, no longer assembled in city squares attending to a voice from a loudspeaker, instead has been assembled before one hundred million television sets, looking at and listening to distanced presences that transmit but never receive”

before speculating that new technology would provide two-way communication, a way for the public to talk back –

“there is a logic behind [the possibilities], one senses, that will sooner or later put them in the hands where they will do the most good: the hands of the public…”

So in his book, Arlen anticipated The Interactive Age, and I’ve been experiencing it at Sunroom Desk for six years now.

End note: beginning its seventh year online, Sunroom Desk is now on a mobile-friendly publishing platform! Thank you Customizr!